Sometimes, something comes along that profoundly affects you enough to need to talk about it… a lot. I read a book that I think, in addition to being highly entertaining, also had a profound spiritual impact on me, and on my own spiritual tour as I careen through this thing we call life. So I thought I would share it with you – it’s coming out this week, and you can also read the first 2 chapters for free at Forgiving Ararat.com. I would also welcome your comments here!
Forgiving Ararat is, without a doubt, the most original book I have ever read. First-time novelist Gita Nazareth (surely not her real name?) has created a story world which seems to live at the intersection of the film What Dreams May Come, the Bible, and a John Grisham novel, with all the best aspects and deeper meanings of each.
The story begins as the heroine, Brek Cuttler, arrives at a train station called Shemaya just after her death. Perhaps the only previously used image in this novel is the station metaphor, but in the skillful, lyrical hands of Nazareth it becomes much more than a wayplace for the dead. A lawyer in life, Cuttler has been chosen to represent the souls of these dead as they pass their Final Judgment, but first she must learn to accept that she has died and why, as well as learning how to be a presenter of souls in this shimmering, shifting purgatory.
Both a spiritual novel and a rivetingly juicy tale, I found reading Forgiving Ararat almost a religious experience. Nazareth’s prose bathes the reader over and over in the light of justice, love and hope, tempering the sinister stories of man’s inhumanity with the truth of their reasons for making these dark choices. She turns murderers and rapists, lawyers and newscasters alike, delving back across centuries and even millennia, into dimensional human beings and argues successfully that the pursuit of justice may itself be irrational and unjust, but it is how we order our lives, and forgiveness, if not love, can still conquer all.
Underlying an epic stocked three deep with characters of every ilk, whose stories are interwoven like a colorful hand-knit afghan (even the book’s publisher gets a fictional nod as the press of one of the novel’s doomed souls) is Nazareth’s startling prose: “… the morning sun strikes the bright yellow fall leaves of a maple tree, making the tree appear as though it has burst into flame. A small sparrow lands on a branch, risking immolation.” Every sentence bursts with a transcendent pride of place, as if each word is happily embracing the next, and even the least significant description is worth rereading to see what new light Nazareth has shone upon usually mundane text.
Though Nazareth’s story of good, evil and the search for justice in what at times can seem like a very unjust world, is spiritual, it also deals with the religions of man: of Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, as well as the fanaticism of Nazis, the Aryan Nation, and Holocaust deniers. It is here that Nazareth excels the most, expertly navigating these dangerous waters and bringing the understanding of truth and the desire for reason and justice all the way to Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, even to Jesus and Yahweh Himself (or Themselves, depending on how you look at it). It is as if she is asking us to look at each religion, at each viewpoint, as Cuttler is asked to look at each soul, impartially and without judgment, and we are richer for it by the end of the tale. Forgiving Ararat is not to be missed, and Nazareth’s novel, I hope, will be the first of many.